Driven to succeed
Carleton student golfs for dough at world championships
Mitch Grassing can hit a golf ball as far as anyone in the world.
The Carleton University student proved it at the World Long Drive championships in Thackerville, Okla., earlier this month, where he finished second among 96 competitors, pocketing $50,000 US.
Though he lost in the final, no one hit the ball further than his 437-yard blast in the semis. For the sake of reference, this is three yards shy of a quartermile or, in golf terms, absolute insanity. He hits the ball so far he can barely use his driver at a typical golf course.
I play a little golf — my chest puffs out if I hit one 200 yards — and can attest to the murderous amount of power the man possesses. Imagine that the leading driver on the PGA tour, Rory McIlroy, is averaging 316 yards off the tee.
One day this week, Grassing, 22, walked into a coffee shop on Wellington Street wearing black shorts, a Callaway cap and flip-flops — a 265-pound man walking softly but carrying a big schtick.
“Making a birdie is great on a golf course,” says Grassing, “but I’ve never felt anything like smashing a ball that fast and seeing it going that far.”
(It is one of those irrational truths in golf that many players would rather hit it long than score well — the reason why PGA television commercials are all about drivers, not putters.)
Grassing, in his fifth year of international business studies, thinks he can get even better. This was the first year he took long-drive competitions seriously, winning a total of $71,000 US at seven events.
“There’s always more,” says Grassing, who has a teddybear look about him, if stuffed animals were six-foot three. “Until (the shaft) breaks, there’s always more you can do.”
As a kid growing up in Kitchener, he was always a long hitter, striking 300- or 330-yard drives when he was a teenager playing with his father, Brad, a drywall contractor. In 2014, his coach at the Whistle Bear course in Cambridge, Ont., Mark Wilson, thought he had potential for long-drive competitions because of his terrific swing speed.
(A good amateur golfer might peak at 90 miles an hour, a PGA pro at 120. Grassing’s club head was clocked at 157 at the world championships.)
So they went to work and, that year, at age 19, he won an Ontario championship with a 381-yard drive, later competing in the worlds.
Technique and power are the keys. When he graduated from high school, Grassing said he weighed 175 pounds. Arriving at Carleton, he hit the weight room and began adding muscle. And how, eventually getting into power lifting: bench presses of 350 pounds, 500-pound squats, deadlifts in excess of 600.
He figures his hockey days and a properly-built golf swing have helped propel him into the elite ranks.
A slow motion shot of Grassing’s swing is a thing to behold. First of all, he takes the club back about as far as is humanly possible, in the tradition of a John Daly, so that he is fully coiled, but his left arm is still straight. Then comes the downswing, led by the legs and hips.
“I take my arms out of it,” he says. “I take them to the top and let them sit there.”
He appears to squat as his weight begins to shift from one leg to the other, bringing the club down in a tremendous whoosh that, literally, lifts him off the ground at impact.
“To me, it doesn’t feel like I’m swinging that fast. It’s all about efficiency, how you use your body.”
As for equipment, he uses a longer shaft than most (48 inches) and a clubface loft of only three degrees, whereas 10 might be typical for an average player. The shaft is also about four times as stiff as a duffer might use.
“It’s a big misconception that we use souped-up equipment that’s totally illegal. Everything about the driver is legal.”
This year has convinced Grassing that he can make a living at long driving — a sport that has turned some athletes into minor celebrities at home and now has sizeable corporate backing like The Golf Channel, which telecast the finals live.
“As soon as you win one of those world titles, it’s a lifechanger.”
Oddly enough, Grassing says he doesn’t play many rounds of golf, where he often relies on a 270-yard four or five iron off the tee on the way to shooting in the high 70s. Nor has he lost his sense of humour. When asked about the weaknesses in his game, he replied: “Everything after the tee shot.”
He’s off to the world team championships in Mexico in November, where he will drive for show, drive for dough.
Mitch Grassing, 22, a Carleton University business student, came second in the World Long Drive championship in Oklahoma earlier this month.
Mitch Grassing tees one up at the Champlain Golf Course in Gatineau.